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Sharon MacKinnon, In Conversation With Quest

In anticipation of her upcoming exhibition, "Outside Inside," artist Sharon MacKinnon sat down with Quest to share the inspiration behind her latest body of work, intimate details about her creative process, her artistic influences, and much more!

"Outside Inside" will be on display at Quest Art School + Gallery from Friday, April 12th, 2024, until Sunday, May 26th, 2024, and you don't want to miss it! __________________________________________________________________________________

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background in the arts.

Imagine sketching while kayaking through polar ice with a polar bear just 50 feet away. It happened!


Sharon MacKinnon was the artist-in-residence for five years on expedition cruises in the Arctic and Antarctic. She also taught painting on Georgian Bay kayaking trips for over a decade. Her raw gestural sketches on board are the initial stages of bold, colourful, expressive paintings. Loving adventure and challenge, Sharon fearlessly abstracts nature in her new paintings.


Sharon’s paintings have been presented to the Canadian Embassies in Vietnam, Cambodia, and South Africa, as well as to the High Commissions in Thailand, India, and Sri Lanka. She received her Master's of Education Degree from the University of Toronto and has over 35 years of teaching experience. She is an elected member of the Society of Canadian Artists and the Ontario Society of Artists.  


Sharon has been awarded three Ontario Arts Council Grants, and two exhibition catalogues feature this work. While president of Quest Art, she worked on the building committee of the ten-million-dollar Midland Cultural Centre. Sharon currently paints and resides on Georgian Bay in Penetanguishene, Ontario, Canada. 


What was the inspiration behind your current exhibition and the themes that you explored in your artwork?

Outside Inside is my poetic response to the everyday experiences in nature that I thrive on.

During COVID, we were all at home, so whether covered in dirt in the garden, paddling the shoreline, or skiing on the bay, I absorbed the surrounding colours, textures, sounds and motion and brought this to my painting practice.


How do you approach the creative process when developing a body of work for an exhibition?

Rather than detailing what I see, my goal is to capture the feelings I have in nature and express them in vibrant splashes of colour, unique lines and shapes. My media include acrylics, oil pastels, coloured pencils, charcoal, handmade papers, graphite and collage. I use sponges, brushes, scrapers, sticks and any other tool that gives unique marks. It can be very messy, physical, experimental, joyful and/or frustrating. The challenge is the editing of the expressionist work so that the audience also feels what I have enjoyed outside.

Are there any specific techniques or mediums you employed in this exhibition, and how do they contribute to the overall artistic expression?

I like to start with playful expressionist painting and work hard to stay out of my head.  Starting with bold colours or black helps shape the work. The thinking comes later.  If I think too early, the work gets too tight.


Are there any recurring motifs or symbols in your artwork that hold personal significance to you, and if so, how do they manifest in this exhibition?

Good question—Trees, shapes in nature and circles and scribbly lines. Oh, I love them all.


How did you navigate the balance between artistic freedom and conveying a specific message or narrative in your work for this exhibition?

My finishing process is constant critiquing. I ask…what if I do this?  And then I do it.  I might wipe it off quickly or paint it over if I don’t like the results. I am looking for movement, mystery and a sense of awe.  This is what being in nature is for me.


Were there any challenges you faced during the creation of this exhibition, and how did you overcome them?

I am always challenged to tie in the expressive lines and shapes into a strong composition that reads across the room. However, I love this challenge.


In what ways do you hope your audience will engage with and interpret your artwork within the context of this exhibition?

I hope they enjoy the energy and vibrant colours and that the paintings are uplifting for them. Once again, we are in unusual times, and it is vital to me that we connect and experience joy together.


Can you share any memorable moments or experiences from the process of bringing this exhibition to life?

I think playing in my concertina sketchbooks has been tremendously therapeutic and keeps me present in the moment.

Art replicates life. Embracing imperfection, lifelong learning and taking risks keeps me centred.  For me, the creative process is far more important than the product.

I have had to learn instagram, making reels, sharing myself and my work online, redesigning my website, interacting in specific art facebook communities, and figuring out email services…[still working on this], to keep current. So my hair continues to grey!! However, the challenge is growth.



Are there particular artists, movements, or historical influences that have informed your creative approach for this exhibition?

Helen Frankenthaller, from the past. Today, Nicholas Wilton and Sally Cooper are two mentors.


What does Quest Art School + Gallery mean to you?

I have been a volunteer for over 30 years, including - President, MCC Building Design Committee, Adult Education Chair, Teacher, and Fundraising Committee Member.

It is my second home, and my friends live here, too. We are so blessed….even in challenging times, so I am thankful.

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